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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.19.18

04/19/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Good move: "Michael Cohen, the embattled lawyer for President Donald Trump, has dropped a pair of lawsuits against BuzzFeed and the research firm Fusion GPS over the preparation and publication of a dossier that contained lurid allegations about the president."

* This was the wrong call: "Jim Bridenstine, perhaps the most politically controversial NASA administrator in history, was confirmed today on a party-line vote in the Senate, giving the US space agency a permanent leader for the first time in 15 months. The 50-49 vote puts the Oklahoma congressman in charge of the sprawling space agency and its $20-billion annual budget."

* Things are getting weird in Missouri: "Gov. Eric Greitens' attorneys have asked a Cole County judge to issue a restraining order blocking Attorney General Josh Hawley from investigating the governor."

* The latest on McCabe: "The Justice Department's inspector general has referred to federal prosecutors his findings that Andrew G. McCabe, the former F.B.I. deputy director, had repeatedly misled investigators, a person familiar with the matter said on Thursday."

* In case you missed last night's show: "Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model reported to have had an affair with Donald Trump a decade ago, has reached a deal with the owner of The National Enquirer allowing her to discuss the reports in public, she and her attorney said Wednesday."

* The list of Pruitt controversies never seems to end: "A group of Colorado homebuilders paid for a luxury hotel stay last fall for EPA chief Scott Pruitt, eight months after the Trump administration began work on a major priority for their industry by unwinding an Obama-era wetlands regulation."

* Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson tell their story: "One week after they were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks, the two black men seen in a cellphone video viewed more than 11 million times went on 'Good Morning America' Thursday to describe how arriving 10 minutes early to a business meeting landed them in handcuffs."

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Orders Regarding Trade

Ignoring slavery, Trump says human trafficking has reached all-time high

04/19/18 02:36PM

Donald Trump was in the Florida Keys today, talking up his demands for a border wall, complaining about Democrats, and raising the prospect of a political "revolution" in California in opposition to so-called "sanctuary cities." All of this would've been quite forgettable had it not been for the president's final, unscripted thought on the subject:

"We can't emphasize enough: not only drugs. The drugs are a big factor, but you look at, human trafficking is worse than it's ever been in the history of this world. And who would think in this modern-day age?"

Yes, right, who would think in his modern era that human trafficking would be worse than it's ever been in the history of this world?

Look, no one should downplay the significance of human trafficking. It's horrific and international officials should make every effort to rid the world of this scourge.

But to think human trafficking is worse now than it's ever been in the history of this world is to forget that the Atlantic slave trade happened.

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United Nations Headquarters' General Assembly Building and Secretariat Building in New York City, USA, Sept. 24, 2015. (Photo by Matt Campbell/EPA)

At international meeting on women, Team Trump pushes abstinence message

04/19/18 12:55PM

The annual U.N. Commission on the Status of Women -- the international body's "most important meeting on women's empowerment," according to a U.S. official -- recently wrapped up a two-week session. BuzzFeed's report on the event suggests the delegation from the Trump administration wasn't exactly well received.

In closed-door meetings at the United Nations in March, Trump administration officials pushed socially conservative views on women's rights issues -- including abstinence-based policies over information about contraception -- that were further to the right than those expressed by most other countries present, including Russia and the representative for the Arab states, UN officials who attended the meetings told BuzzFeed News.

The Trump officials' approach at the UN meeting makes it clear that the administration intends to extend its views on abortion, contraception, and sexual education beyond US borders to an extent that is unusual even for Republican administrations.

According to the report, the Trump administration tapped culture-war activist Bethany Kozma to help represent the United States; she declared that the U.S. is a "pro-life nation"; and administration officials proceeded to isolate the United States on family planning issues throughout the international gathering.

In case this isn't obvious, in the Obama era, U.S. officials helped take the international lead at forums such as these. We've since taken a big step in a regressive direction, and according to International Women's Health Coalition Director Shannon Kowalski, the Trump administration is even "further to the right" and "far more extreme" than the Bush/Cheney administration.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.19.18

04/19/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* In Indiana's heated Republican Senate primary, Donald Trump's re-election campaign this week demanded that Rep. Todd Rokita (R) take down materials that suggested the president had "endorsed" his candidacy. Trump is neutral in the race.

* On a related note, one of Rokita's principal rivals, Rep. Luke Messer (R), apparently hid two drunken driving convictions from party officials.

* In Arizona's closely watched U.S. Senate race, a new poll from an ABC News affiliate in the state found former far-right state Sen. Kelli Ward leading the Republican primary field. Just as importantly, the results found Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) leading each of the GOP contenders in hypothetical general-election match-ups.

* For the first election cycle in a long while, voters shouldn't expect to see a lot of anti-ACA ads this fall: "Anti-Obamacare ad spending in the 2018 election cycle has plummeted compared to the same period in the previous three cycles, according to data compiled by Kantar Media/CMAG for HuffPost."

* Pressed by MSNBC's Chris Hayes on the air this week about a possible presidential campaign in 2020, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder conceded, "Yeah, I'm thinking about it."

* We haven't heard the last of former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who's apparently eager to run for Congress again, though he hasn't said which district he intends to run in. He'll have to decide soon: filing deadlines in Florida are a few weeks away.

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Image: North Korea

This week's tumult has done Nikki Haley no favors

04/19/18 11:27AM

It's been a difficult week for Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who declared to the world on Sunday that the Trump administration would soon announce new sanctions on Russia over its support for the Assad regime in Syria.

What Haley did not know, however, is that Donald Trump would reject that idea, making her declaration wrong. The White House soon after suggested that Haley was "confused," prompting the ambassador to issue a statement that read, "With all due respect, I don't get confused."

Haley quickly received an apology and Trump World is moving on -- she said yesterday her relationship with the president is "perfect" -- but the question is whether she's worse for wear. Politico made it sound as if the opposite is true.

In the span of 24 hours, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has done what none of her colleagues in President Donald Trump's Cabinet have before: successfully telegraphed to her boss that she will not quietly suffer his public humiliations.

Well, maybe. Based on what we know at this point, it appears that Trump changed his mind about sanctions, and no one told the ambassador before she made a definitive announcement on national television. The White House, reluctant to acknowledge a change in direction, clearly took steps to blame Haley, and she pushed back accordingly.

But that doesn't mean this mess has left her in a better position than she was in before.

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As Trump's credibility crashes, the world starts to ignore him

04/19/18 10:44AM

During a tour of Latin America last summer, Vice President Mike Pence boasted that the world recognizes Donald Trump as "a leader who says what he means and means what he says." Pence has made all kinds of unfortunate comments over the years, but perhaps none has been as ridiculous as this one.

Because if there's one thing the world has learned about this president, it's that what Trump says and what Trump does are often entirely unrelated. Politico had a good piece on this overnight:

Wall Street, corporate America and the diplomatic world are settling on a strategy to deal with President Donald Trump's rapidly shifting statements on critical issues like trade deals and Russia sanctions: Just ignore him. [...]

All of this has led investors, executives and diplomats to the conclusion that trying to act on any single thing Trump says or tweets is a fool's game. The more effective strategy, these people say, is to look for trends in the broad sweep of Trump's approach to governance and ignore all the noise.

The "noise," in this case, are public policy pronouncements from the sitting president of the United States.

The article pointed to a fair amount of recent evidence. When Trump signaled a willingness to re-engage with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, it should've sent shockwaves through economic and diplomatic circles -- but it didn't because most assumed the president would reverse course soon after, which is exactly what happened a few days later.

Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset Wealth Advisors, told  Politico, "He's clearly proven that he tends to shoot first and ask questions later and that is very, very difficult for anyone on Wall Street or really anywhere to navigate."

Clayton Allen, vice president of special situations at Height Capital Markets, added that people are starting to realize that Trump's pronouncements "often signify nothing," and as a result they are "learning to live with the sound and fury."

I think that's probably wise. I also think it's a terribly sad state of affairs when the only responsible course is to treat pronouncements from the head of state for a global superpower as background noise that's better left ignored.

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The Orion capsule is moved at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Nov. 11, 2014. The NASA spacecraft was designed to one day fly astronauts to Mars. (Photo by Mike Brown/Reuters)

Republicans rally behind Trump's dubious choice to lead NASA

04/19/18 10:04AM

There was some unexpected drama on the Senate floor yesterday, when Donald Trump's choice to lead NASA, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), didn't have the votes to advance. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) were out, and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) initially balked, leaving the chamber tied, 49 to 49.

Ordinarily, Vice President Mike Pence would break the tie, but he was 1,000 miles away in Florida.

Eventually, Senate GOP leaders made some private concessions to Flake; the Arizonan changed his vote; and the drama came to an end. All of which makes this a fine time to take a closer look at the man who'll soon lead NASA thanks to the unanimous support of Senate Republicans. Vox had this report yesterday on Bridenstine -- the first politician who'll oversee the space agency.

As a politician, Bridenstine has hedged on climate change, an issue NASA scientists study and track in many different ways. During his confirmation hearing in November, Bridenstine agreed that humans are the driving force behind climate change, but he would not agree with the assertion that human activity is the primary cause of it. It's an odd position to hold as the leader of an agency that provides some of the most comprehensive data on climate change in the world.

NASA has a staff of 17,000 and a budget of nearly $19 billion (not to mention the numerous contractors it works with). Bridenstine's experience of managing a museum in Tulsa pales in comparison to the enormous complexity of NASA.

Questions about Bridenstine's qualifications grew louder when the Daily Beast  reported this week that when the Oklahoma Republican led a space museum in Tulsa, it suffered hefty financial losses, and "some of the losses involved the use of the non-profit's resources to benefit a company that Bridenstine simultaneously co-owned and in which he'd invested substantial sums of his own money."

Bridenstine denied any wrongdoing, and as of yesterday, literally no one in the Senate Republican conference cared.

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A tractor plows a field on February 25, 2014 in Firebaugh, California.

Trump makes some dubious assumptions about farmers' partisan allegiance

04/19/18 09:20AM

Earlier this year, Donald Trump spoke at American Farm Bureau's annual convention, where the president strutted like a man who assumed he was among adoring fans. "Oh, are you happy you voted for me," Trump said, straying from the prepared text on his trusted teleprompter. "You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege."

But the Republican's bond with farmers frayed in the months that followed. As Trump picked dangerous fights over trade, it's farmers who are positioned to feel the adverse consequences. The president admitted as much at a White House event last week, conceding, "I tell you, our farmers are great patriots. These are great patriots. They understand that they're doing this for the country."

In other words, Trump sees farmers suffering, but he assumes they won't mind -- because they're effectively taking one for the team.

Those assumptions may be wrong. The New York Times had this report out of Casselton, North Dakota.

Stern warnings are coming from all over the Midwest about the political peril for Republicans in Mr. Trump's recent course of action, in which the tariffs he slapped on foreign competitors invited retaliatory tariffs on American agriculture. Soybeans are America's second largest export to China, and that country's proposed 25 percent duties on the crop would hit hardest in states like Iowa, Kansas and Minnesota -- where there are highly competitive House races -- as well as Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota, whose Senate contests may determine control of the chamber.

By proposing the tariffs, Mr. Trump has moved to fulfill a central promise of his campaign: confronting those countries he believes are undermining American industry. Yet his goal -- to revive the steel and aluminum industries, thereby aiding the Rust Belt states that were crucial to his election -- has effectively prioritized one element of the Trump political coalition over another, larger bloc of voters. That larger segment, the farm belt, is essential to Republican success in the midterm elections and beyond.

The report quoted one farmer saying, in reference to Trump, "If he doesn't understand what he's doing to the nation by doing what he's doing, he's going to be a one-term president, plain and simple."

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz attends a Penn. campaign kickoff event held on N.Y. presidential primary night at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Penn. on April 19, 2016. (Photo by Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

New polling points to possible trouble for Ted Cruz in Texas

04/19/18 08:40AM

When looking for vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents in 2018, the list invariably starts with Nevada's Dean Heller, the only GOP senator running in a state Donald Trump lost. The trouble for Democrats is, the list also tends to end with Dean Heller, too.

But what if there's another addition to the list who much of the political world assumed would be safe?

Sen. Ted Cruz may be headed for a Texas showdown this November.

The Lone Star State Republican is locked in a statistical dead heat with Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke, according to a new Quinnipiac Poll released Wednesday. The poll found Cruz leading O'Rourke 47 to 44 percent, within the poll's 3.6 percent margin of error.

Democrats have been hopeful that Texas' changing demographics will soon give them a shot at winning a Senate seat in the traditionally red state. And Cruz, a firebrand conservative and 2016 presidential hopeful, is a top target.

The Quinnipiac poll, which is available in its entirety here, found the incumbent senator with a 47% approval rating -- an underwhelming level of support for a high-profile Republican in a red state -- and a favorability rating of 46%.

And while I'd remind Democrats to wait for additional polling before getting too excited, the data follows a report from two weeks ago in which Beto O'Rourke raised $6.7 million in the first quarter of this year, suggesting he'll have the resources to run a real statewide campaign against a controversial incumbent.

What's more, in campaigns, success begets success: with polling showing O'Rourke within striking distance, the Texas Dem will probably find it easier to raise even more money, which will in turn help him compete.

As for the broader landscape, the Lone Star State isn't the only place Democrats have found an unexpected battleground.

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